Secretary, Wisconsin Department of Corrections: Allow Prisoners to Study and Perform Shakespeare
  • Petitioned Edward Wall

This petition was delivered to:

Secretary, Wisconsin Department of Corrections
Edward Wall

Secretary, Wisconsin Department of Corrections: Allow Prisoners to Study and Perform Shakespeare

    1. J S
    2. Petition by

      J S

      Kenosha, WI

December 2012


From the petition creator: Our voice was heard! Wisconsin Secretary of Corrections Edward Wall has responded, and has invited me to submit a new proposal for HAMLET. THANK YOU to everyone who signed the petition. Your comments have been archived, and will stand as testimony to the broad public appreciation and support of this work. You can keep in touch with The Shakespeare Prison Project by visiting our blog at Again--thank you!

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections has cancelled The Shakespeare Prison Project (TSP), despite the program's proven track record of success.  Please urge Edward Wall, the new Secretary of The Wisconsin Department of Corrections, to allow this worthwhile educational activity to resume.

"As a long time prosecutor in Kenosha County, I think any good citizen who helps inmates take a look at the world from other eyes is playing an important role...  What better way to do that than the theater?"

~ Michael D. Graveley, Assistant District Attorney, Kenosha County, Wisconsin

From 2004 to 2008, The Shakespeare Project involved over 600 inmates in the study and performance of plays such as OTHELLO and THE TEMPEST.

The annual nine-month program, which has been celebrated in THE NEW YORK TIMES and on WISCONSIN PUBLIC RADIO, helps inmates develop essential life skills, including self-discipline, moral reasoning, empathy, and problem-solving.

The Shakespeare Project also has a strong positive effect on the cultural climate of the prison, involving inmates of diverse backgrounds, and volunteer facilitators, staff, and administrators in an exciting creative activity that transcends boundaries.

Finally, The Shakespeare Project helps prisoners re-connect to their families in positive ways. As the wife of one inmate declared at the conclusion of his performance, "It feels different to see him treated like a person up there."

It was stunning - Shakespeare as Shakespeare was meant to be - real, raw, and electrifying. The actor who played the lead had a powerful on-stage presence and emoted real anguish. Iago was positively machiavellian. And Desdemona made me cry. It was by far the most memorable performance of  the play I have ever seen - truly transformative.

~ Jean Feraca, Wisconsin Public Radio 

The Shakespeare Prison Project is directed by Dr. Jonathan Shailor, associate professor of communication a the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, and a volunteer educator in prisons since 1995. He is a Wisconsin Teaching Scholar and a recipient of the Stella Gray Award for Teaching Excellence. He has been named a "Friend of Corrections" on mulitple occasions, and was chosen as the keynote speaker at the Volunteer Appreciation Ceremony at Racine Correctional Institution in 2007.  Shailor has published several evidence-based essays on the benefits of prison theatre programs, including The Shakespeare Project (see Works Cited, bottom of this page).

The Shakespeare Project was scheduled to resume at Racine Correctional Institution on September 4, 2012.

Just days before The Shakespeare Project was scheduled to begin, the warden was directed by his supervisors at the State Department of Corrections to cancel the project, because it was not an approved "evidence-based practice."  While evidence-based practices are essential to the mission of corrections, there should also be room for courses in the arts and humanities.


The United States incarcerates more of its people than any other nation in the world, and also fails to provide adequate resources for inmate education, rehabilitation, and reintegration. 

In 2011, 80% of the inmates at Racine Correctional Institution were not involved in education programs.  This is a shame, because the evidence in the U.S. over the past 40 years is overwhelming: education in prison is always positively correlated with lower rates of recidivism (see Correctional Association of New York, 2009; Harer, 1994; Steurer, 1996; Steuer, et al., 2010).  The Brewster Report shows a specific relationship between arts and humanities education and reduced recidivism (1983), and more recently, a 17-year-old prison Shakespeare program in Kentucky indicated the recidivism rate of their participants at 6%, as opposed to the 65% recidivism rate nationally, and the 34% recidivism rate for the Kentucky Department of Corrections (Shakespeare Behind Bars, 2010).  The Shakespeare Project at Racine Correctional Institution (2004-2008) has also been proven as a positive force in rehabilitation, re-entry and reintegration (see Shailor: 20011a, 2011b, 2008a, 2008b).  

"Ninety-five percent of the people who go into prison come back out. And how do you want them to come back out? Do you want them to be bitter and angry and hostile? Or do you want something in place that maintains their humanity and keeps the human side alive?"

~ Grady Hillman, Co-Founder, Southwest Correctional Arts Network, and Artist in Residence at over 50 correctional facilities in the United States and abroad


Please sign this petition urging Wisconsin Department of Corrections Secretary Wall to bring back The Shakespeare Project!


Works Cited

Brewster, L. G. (1983).  An Evaluation of the Arts-in-Corrections Program of    the California Department of Corrections. Report prepared for the William James Association (Santa Cruz, CA) and the California Department of Corrections.  Accessed on 1/31/10 at

Shailor, J.  (2011a).  Prison theatre and the promise of reintegration.  In Performing  New Lives:  Prison Theatre.  London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. pp. 180-196.

Shailor, J. (2011b).  Humanizing education behind bars:  The theatre of          empowerment and the Shakespeare project.  In Stephen Hartnett (Ed.),Empowerment or incarceration?  Reclaiming hope and justice from the prison-industrial complex.  Champaign, IL:  University of Illinois Press.  pp. 229-251.

Shailor, J. (2008a).  When muddy flowers bloom:  The Shakespeare Project at Racine Correctional Institution.  In PMLA (Publications of the Modern Language Association of America).  Volume 123, No. 3, 632-641. 

Shailor, J. (2008b). A professor's perspective: The Shakespeare Project at Racine Correctional Institution. In Brune, K. (Ed.), Creating Behind the Razor Wire: Perspectives from Arts in Corrections in the United States.  Published by

Shakespeare Behind Bars (2010).  Internationally acclaimed Shakespeare Behind Bars Incorporates as Not-for-Profit. Retrieved July 17, 2012 from

Steurer, S. (1996) “Correctional education: A worthwhile investment.” Linkages, 3,2. Washington, DC: National Adult Literacy and Learning Disabilities Center.

Steurer, S.J., Linton, J., Nally, J., & Lockwood, S. (August 2010). The top-nine reasons to increase correctional education programs. Corrections Today.

Steurer, S.J., Smith, L., & Tracy, L. (2001). Three state recidivism study. Study sponsored by the Correctional Education Association and submitted to the U.S. Department of Education (Office of Correctional Education).

Recent signatures


    1. Hopeful news...

      J S
      by J S
      Petition Organizer

      When the new Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, Edward Wall, took office in early November 2012, I asked him to review the decision to cancel The Shakespeare Prison Project. After holding conversations with his administrators, Secretary Wall sent me an email that (1) supported the original decision to cancel, (2) expressed appreciation for my devotion to the project, and (3) invited me to submit a revised proposal that would address outstanding concerns. On Friday, Racine Correctional Institution Warden John Paquin acknowledged receipt of the new proposal, for HAMLET. It is now under review, with a decision expected in early 2013. For more see


      Photos by Racine Journal Times (2005) When Muddy Flowers Bloom: The Shakespeare Project at Racine Correctional Institution Published in PMLA (May 2008). Vol. 123, No. 3, pp. 632-641 About 100 inmates are seated in the prison gym, waiting for the performance of King Lear to begin.

    2. Interview with Jonathan Shailor

      J S
      by J S
      Petition Organizer

      On Monday, October 22, Jonathan Shailor (founder and director of the Shakespeare Prison Project) was interviewed about the cancellation of his program on NPR affiliate WGTD-FM. You can listen to the one-hour interview by clicking here:

    3. Reached 750 signatures
    4. Goal: 1,000 Signatures by Monday, October 22!

      J S
      by J S
      Petition Organizer

      That's the date I meet with the Racine Correctional Institution Community Relations Board. I want them to know that this petition has significant support! You can help by asking three more people to sign TODAY. Thank you.

    5. Reached 500 signatures
    6. Wisconsin Public Radio: "DOC Denies Shakespeare Behind Bars"

      J S
      by J S
      Petition Organizer

      The Department of Corrections has rejected a proposal to restart a Shakespeare Behind Bars program that operated successfully in a Racine prison for four years. DOC officials say there is no evidence that producing Shakespeare plays reduces recidivism.

      DOC Denies Shakespeare Behind Bars

      The Department of Corrections has rejected a proposal to restart a Shakespeare Behind Bars program that operated successfully in a Racine prison for four

    7. Former Shakespeare Project Participant Signs the Petition!

      J S
      by J S
      Petition Organizer

      Nicholas Leair, signer of the petition: "I was involved in The Shakespeare Project as a member. Someone who was incarcerated. The positive effect this program had on me cannot be measured. It helped me bring a better understanding of myself as an individual. It gave me a greater depth of empathy towards my victims. It showed me a path of life that involved a positive outlet. Art heals the soul and enriches lives. The power of this program, gives skills to help us who are incarcerated, reduce the rate of recidivism. It is a vital tool where I received a great support system to help my rehabilitation into society. All the while, giving me a chance to attempt to give back to the victims that I created. Please, please, allow this necessary program to come back." Nick was released a year and a half
      ago. He is holding down a good job, and being a good father to his daughter.

    8. Reached 250 signatures


    Reasons for signing

    • Melissa loper OVERLAND PARK, KS
      • almost 2 years ago

      Every living being deserves a chance to succeed. Those who have wronged us obviously need the support, encouragement, discipline, and creative outlet this program has successfully given in the past. don't take away their chance to grow to do and be better. There is enough apathy and hate as is. Thank you.

    • Angela lewis NEENAH, WI
      • almost 2 years ago

      Because all people need an outlet for change, especially those who have lost all other forms of feeling connected to humanity. These people are sentenced as punishment, not to be repeatedly punished.

      • almost 2 years ago

      I have taught drama all mu life, and have worked some with prisoners and deliquent youth and I have seen so much amazing transformation, especially in the ability to anticipate consequences and to see and feel from another's point of view (empathy), lacking in sime who have had particularly harsh life experiences. I know that all good could come from this!

    • David Willis LOS ANGELES, CA
      • almost 2 years ago

      Theatre connects people, makes them part of a community, gives them something to believe in, makes them whole and useful. What's not to like about this as an inexpensive tool of rehabilitation, which is what a correctional facility is supposed to be about, right?

    • Sarah Cosgrove GAITHERSBURG, MD
      • almost 2 years ago

      Because I know what a difference theater can make in a person's life. I am a theater artist.


    Develop your own tools to win.

    Use the API to develop your own organizing tools. Find out how to get started.